Over the next week, it might be good to do an experiment with solitude. First, solitude can sound really grim or religious. But it’s really more about unplugging from the thoughts (ideas, images, reasoning) and feelings (sensations, perceptions, emotions) that come to us from the world so that we can begin to hear our own thoughts and feel our own feelings, as well as those of God. Second, this helps us to move out of the anxious habit of thinking that we must always be ‘doing’ that is driven by fear. When we experience our being, even when we are not doing, our fear fades, and we begin to notice that the world, including our world, is being sustained by a power other than ourselves. In time, we can begin to experience that this sustaining power is God.
A good thing to do is to plan a day where you will do three hours of solitude. I’ll tell you exactly what that can look like, and you can modify as you see fit. When we plan anything on a day, it is good to know that the Jewish concept of the day is that it starts at sundown, not when your alarm goes off the next morning. God wants us to start our days with rest. That is also why the sabbath is the first day of the week. So when you are going to have a day where you go into solitude, spend some time in prayer just before sundown the evening before. Ask God to fill you with His love for your life, to lift any negative thoughts and feelings from you, and to be with you in solitude the next day. Also, ask Him for good sleep. Then, have a restful evening, begin to unwind with good food, comfort, play, whatever is truly good for you. Plan to have dim lights or candles, as well as quiet, during your last hour awake before you go to bed. If you like, listen to some instrumental music that is beautiful and calming for part of that time, but allow yourself to come to rest without too much stimulation. Dim lights or candles can really help because they simulate the bodies natural sleep response to sunset.
When you rise in the morning, try saying “The Lord is here.” Don’t worry about trying to feel his presence or feel anything other than what you feel. Just consider that he is actually in the room with you, no matter what you are thinking or feeling, just like any other person. Try speaking aloud in your prayers and thank Him for the day, if you don’t feel particularly thankful or grateful, be honest with him and ask him to help you with that. Then ask Him to again fill you with his love for your life and to go with you into solitude.
You will want to pick your location or locations for solitude at least a day before going. If you have to figure one out on the day of it can create distraction and stress. The locations should be really comfortable, either inside or outside, but away from your home or work if possible.
On the way to your location, simply ask God to be with you, and then go, without your cellphone, radio, or other distractions. When you go, simply do nothing. Smell the roses. Again, your body will protest, and habitually try to get anxious about something to do, but just know that this is a withdrawal symptom that will pass. You may have a number of thoughts and feelings arise that you become aware of and don’t like. Don’t try to fight these too hard, you are just noticing what you are unplugging from. Thoughts and feelings are kind of like wheels that are spinning really fast on their own and it takes some time in solitude for them to stop spinning. If you need, go for a walk, and simply pass the time appreciating your surroundings. Look at landscapes, flowers, animals. Watch birds. Sit in a really comfortable chair by a fire or window with plants outside. Whatever is helpful.
Personal note: sometimes if I’ve been really amped up, going into solitude like this can feel like braking hard in a car. If this is the case, I will unplug in stages. I’ll start by going to a coffee shop by myself. In this case I say hello to whoever gets my coffee, theres’s a lot of hustle and bustle in the shop as well as some music and I sit awhile until I’m ready to go from there to the location where I’ll be outside or inside without people and more silence. You can try doing it this way if you think it will work better for you.
Once you are out, you may find that at some point you need a thirty minute nap. If so, take one wherever you can inside, in your car, etc., as long as you can be comfortable. When you wake up, go slowly back to your walk, or sitting observing, enjoying what you see.
Again, the point of solitude is to do nothing. Let me say it another way, the way this really works is to be in a context where you can eventually simply find yourself doing nothing without trying. In a way, it’s like the inner quiet sneaks up on us.
After your experience, write down what you noticed, what worked, and what didn’t. Perhaps speak to God honestly about that. Thank Him and ask him for more help to do more of what works and less of what doesn’t.
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